Globe, Latin America, United Kingdom

How to prosecute democracy

During the past two decades, many progressive Latin American politicians have been victims of a criminalisation process carried out by the elite. All of them have sought to defeat the traditional economic system or maintain some independence from the US. This judicial war is possible thanks to elite, the judicial power and the Media.


Nathan Raia


The word lawfare was used, for the first time, in the United States, following a practice that saw state politicians being blocked from running in the elections because of a lawsuit.

It was very common, especially between the 80s and 90s, that someone, in order to stop a rival just launched a lawsuit, usually based on false charges. By planning the time and carefully choosing the court, this practice would temporarily block someone’s nomination. Nowadays, this procedure has become very popular all over the world, but Latin America is experiencing the most aggressive form of lawfare.

This a topic that Guillaume Long knows well. Before becoming the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Ecuador in March 2016, he served as Minister of Culture and Heritage, and Minister of Knowledge and Human Talent. Subsequently, he became Ecuador’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, from which he resigned in January 2018 because of some strong disagreements with President Lenin Moreno.

Guillaume Long. Photo by Nathan Raia

Long spoke to The Prisma and described lawfare as a worrying situation for all progressive politicians.

Through a de-legitimization process, they are falsely accused and locked up in jail. “It’s not the old military regime but it has exactly the same purpose. The old military regimes killed and tortured people who wanted more democratic states. These people are more subtle, they prevent them from participating in politics”.

During his years in politics, he saw many cases of people being stopped from participating in political life, he saw politicians fleeing Ecuador because of false accusation, all victims of lawfare.

What are the elements that characterize the lawfare?

Lawfare is, as its name indicates, warfare through law. It’s sort of an extreme form of judicialisation of politics or politicisation of justice, and, in different intensities of people trying to stop each other from gaining political power, or trying to stop rivals from running for certain positions.

Is lawfare something new in Latin America?

Throughout history, this is not completely new, what is new, in what we are experiencing in Latin America right now, is the intensity of lawfare. So, it’s not just the elite squabbling amongst themselves and trying to block one another from running. We are talking about grand scale lawfare against progressive governments, particularly the governments on the political left, who were in power in Latin America from nearly 2000 up to very recently. It is an attempt, on behalf of the elite, to block democratic politics. To block people from running, from being physically present in the country and from participating in political debates in a different number of ways.

Which countries are involved? Who is involved and who is targeted?

Several countries particularly illustrate the phenomenon.

Brazil is the most famous one with Lula, and Argentina is another important one, while I think Ecuador is one of the most aggressive cases of lawfare. In Brazil there is Lula, who would have easily won the elections, but he is in jail.

In Argentina, Cristina Fernandez has been facing large scale persecution. She has been more successful than the others, and she’s now running as a vice presidential candidate and is very likely to become vice president is in a month’s time.

Rafael Correa has been a very special case. You are very close to him. Could you tell us more about his situation?

In Ecuador, as in Brazil, even if Correa isn’t in jail, there is an arrest warrant against him. So, he is in exile, he lives in Belgium. Even Interpol said that the arrest warrant was politically motivated. So, in the end Rafael Correa can travel all round the world, he is not going to be extradited by anybody, because nobody’s giving any legitimacy or credence to the Ecuadorian arrest warrant, but for the Ecuadorian authorities that doesn’t matter.

The purpose was to block him from being physically present on Ecuadorean soil, to block him from being a political leader, from participating in the public debate. And above all, to block him from being a future candidate in elections that he would probably win, because he’s the most popular politician in Ecuador and his political movement is by far the biggest and most important political movement in Ecuador.

In Ecuador, where I come from, lawfare has been applied not just against him but against all the former members of his cabinet, ministers, almost all of them. A significant number had to flee the country, go into exile.

A former foreign minister, my predecessor, Ricardo Patiño has a pre-trial detention order, for giving a speech in which he calls for combative resistance through peaceful means. And he is in exile in Mexico. It’s an abuse of law in order to intimidate.

It seems lawfare has a new strategy, a new way…

What is interesting, with this new way of lawfare and this particularly aggressive form of political and judicial prosecution, is that it is not isolated.

It is part of a broader political effort, to turn the page of left-wing power on behalf of the elite, to block the left from coming back. It is accompanied by media boycotts and censorship. This is how the elite and the corporate media are trying to banish these governments from collective memory. In Ecuador they even avoid the use of certain words, they stopped using the Correa’s name, they are trying to erase the collective memory of those governments.

Is this process working?

It does work to a certain extent, because if the media are repeating, every day, false corruption claims or false accusations, eventually it has an effect. But the good news, I think, is that broadly speaking, it’s not working. So, the memory of our citizen’s revolution in Ecuador, which is a political process that lasted from 2007 to 2017, that legacy is growing every day.

Is lawfare an international phenomenon?

If it’s the same in all these countries it also has, presumably, an international grounding, I would say a geo-political ground, and all these pink tides (turn to the left) of centre governments in Latin America had something in common.

They were diversifying their relations with the world. They were asserting their sovereignty and they were implementing a more sovereign foreign policy, a different approach from the traditional bilateralism with the United States.

And I think that there’s been some international support, including from the US, for the current lawfare in Latin America.

(Photos: Pixabay)


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